An Interview with Open Medicine's Publisher - John Willinsky

Submitted by Dean Giustini on August 12, 2007 - 20:40
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john.jpgUBC's Dr. John Willinsky is no stranger to open access advocates. His book The Access Principle is 'required reading' for all those who believe in the connection between access to information and the economic and social well-being of knowledge-based societies. Recently, John accepted an appointment at Stanford University in California, and I asked him some questions about his teaching and research there.

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Dean: John, can you tell me a little bit about your teaching and research at the moment? I see that you are a full professor at Stanford in the School of Education. Now, I really wish I had done my directed study with you while you were at UBC!

JOHN:
 

"Well, Dean, I wouldn't give up on me just yet. With the move to Stanford this summer, I will be continuing to work with teachers in graduate programs as I did at UBC, as well as to teach on educational topics, with at least one course on developments in scholarly publishing. My research continues to focus on public knowledge issues having to do with access to research and scholarship. I'm looking forward, for example, to working out more fully how John Locke's theory of property -- among the founding principles of the US -- applies in a very different way to what he called the "commonwealth of learning." But as well, I have retained a small partial appointment with UBC that will involve continuing work with the Public Knowledge Project and graduate studies, and that would enable you, for example, to approach me for that directed study, after all."

 

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Dean: Let's talk about the changes in scholarly publishing. I've had the sinking sense that BioMedCentral's 'per article' fees and its institutional subscription fees would drive away academics after years of building a constituency. You've seen the announcement that Yale Library withdrawing its support of BMC. Are you as disappointed by this turn of events as I am?

JOHN:
 

"The scholarly publishing market is in considerable flux, in terms of arriving at funding models that stick and hold, which is entirely understandable given the significant change in publishing media and related technologies, and given that the print publishing model was riven with irrational discrepancies in pricing and costs. That said, I, too, was sorry to see this turn with Yale and BMC. Yet I also wondered if it did not make more sense for author fees to come from the author's grants, and that the library should only pay such fees, at most, during the period in which researchers were building such fees built into their budgets (where, in the case of the biomedical research that BMC publishes, such dissemination costs would be perhaps 1 or 2 percent of the overall budget of any given project grant)."

 

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Dean: Open Journal Systems (OJS) has become an enormously popular and easy-to-implement open source publishing platform. Can you provide a little update about how many journals use OJS, and what sorts of developments you are planning for 2007-08?

JOHN:
 

"The growth of in the use of OJS has provided an exciting opportunity to work with, and assist, new and old journals from around the world. Open Journal Systems is now being used by over 1,000 journals with little over half of the journals coming from developing nations and 35% of them in languages other than English. About half of our users are existing journals that are using OJS to move online, and support their complete publishing process from accepting submissions to publishing issues (including back issues from earlier days). Almost all of the journals are open access, although that includes 40% that offer a form of delayed open access, while still selling subscriptions to their current issues. About half the journals are in the sciences, with a strong contingent of interdisciplinary journals as well.

pkp.gifAs for what's next for PKP, we will be releasing the next version of OJS, in a few months time, in association with our parallel release of Lemon8-XML, developed by MJ Suhonos, which will will automate XML conversion from Word and ODT documents. We'll also be including greater support for reference linking, full PayPal support for subscriptions and delayed open access. Then, down the road, we see moving into greatly modularity between Open Journal and Open Conference Systems to give users greater flexibility in the use of these basic scholarly publishing practices."

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Dean: The Public Knowledge Project (and the conference) has been very successful. How does your involvement with Stanford alter your vision for the PKP and the conference? Will you continue to plan for an annual conference around open access issues?

JOHN:
 

"I have to say, having just come out of our first international conference in July, with the final bills still coming in, we are all a little reluctant to jump right into any commitments to holding annual events on the scale of that conference, with over 200 participants, many with funded sponsorship toattend from developing countries. Still, this doesn't mean that we won't be out there. For the coming year, we have scheduled a series of workshops on the general topic of new technologies in scholarly publishing for Latin America led by Juan Pablo Alperin and Gustavo Fischman, with one in Nepal as well led by Alec Smecher. These follow on a very successful workshop tour conducted by Samuel Smith Esseh and Paiki Muswazi which had seven stops in Africa earlier this year. As for how my position at Stanford will play in all this, it is still too early to say -- I am still unpacking books here -- though I have to say that the Dean of the School of Education, Deborah Stipek, has been very supportive in helping me get the research side of PKP established at Stanford."

 

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Dean: We've collaborated on Open Medicine, and, as you know, we have a unique funding model to publish it. Put simply, we require volunteer labour (ie. copy-editors especially) and fund-raising to produce the Journal. Do you see any other 'liminal' kinds of funding models among open access journals, where articles are being published but have no business plan?

JOHN:
 

"I must say that your contribution to Open Medicine has been part of what makes this journal so special. You proven, among other things, how blog and journal can work hand in hand. As for the economics, I think Open Medicine presents a very interesting open access model of developing and launching the journal, while still seeking out a sustainable economic model that is likely to be made up of a number of parts, including volunteer support, library funding, donors and other agencies. To further this process of testing new models, we are pursuing, with the support of our library partners in PKP, namely Simon Fraser University led by Lynn Copeland, a more active and sustained role for open access journals among the library community. This could well take the form of a cooperative model, in which research libraries participate with journals and scholarly society publishers at a cost somewhat less than current subscription costs for participating journals (given the economies of open source software, library in-kind support, reduced transactional costs, etc.). We don't have any sterling instances of this yet, but given the number of libraries already hosting open access journals (Vanderbilt, Rutgers, UBC, etc.) and the support of SPARC and other agencies, it will not be long, I believe, before we enter the proof of concept stage with this model. What would be great is for a few journals and scholarly societies to come forward (after reading this blog perhaps) and say, yes, we'd like to give this idea a try."

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Dean: We've discussed web 2.0 applications for OJS, and I wonder if you think that blogs, wikis and other additions to OJS will be forthcoming?

JOHN:
 

"The real focus for our web 2.0 integration will likely be on a new project, namely, a system to support the publishing of scholarly monographs and critical editions. It is here, in association with the University of Athabasca and the National Library of Australia, that we want to explore how in the development of book-length projects and in the after-life of the published book, we can help authors, editors and publishers, tap more fully into the active communities of interest that can form around or incorporate such publishing activities. This will mean, in the first instance, providing readers with notification and annotation tools, as well as an ability to link in related resources, such as data-mashups and blog-clusters. All of this can begin to work for the author well before the book is unleashed as a book, as it can contribute, to whatever degree the author is inclined, to the writing of the book through the earlier stages of the prospectus, draft chapters, data gathering, and manuscript. Elements of this new openness will then be made available to journal editors and publishers in later versions of OJS."

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Dean: Finally, your book "The Access Principle" - where and when can we expect updates? What about your own blog, John?

JOHN:
 

"Yeah, good question. Dude, where's my blog? Well, without getting into my state of bloglessness, I would point to http://pkp.sfu.ca/biblio, where most of the talks, essays, and studies that the Public Knowledge Project has worked up and published, including most everything I've done since The Access Principle, are available. I'll be sure to add a link to this blog on that site, as it has been good to have a chance to address these questions, and great to be part of a blog that is otherwise making such a fine contribution. I thank you for that."

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Comments

It is no longer a question of WHETHER or not scholarly works and, indeed, fundamental academic knowlege, will be freely available for public consumption. It isn’t even of question of WHEN—it is already happening.

It only remains to be seen how those of us who have made a living from the “early 20th century” publishing model will adapt and succeed within the new paradigm.

For those who don't know :  Public Knowledge Project (PKP), is - most remarkably - world-renowned for both theoretical and practical contributions to the open access movement.